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Buying a house in the Languedoc - the hunt begins

Buying a house in the Languedoc - the hunt begins

Old Dec 4th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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It is interesting to note that it is freezing there at night right now, while it is not at all freezing in Paris.
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Old Dec 4th, 2013, 02:28 PM
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LOL, hetismij2! The reason I have had short hair for the past 15 years or so is that it seemed every time I went to Provence or the Languedoc, that da*n mistral was blowing and I ate about as much hair as I did baguettes. Drove me almost out of my mind. Everything had to be tied down or it would roll all over the place. And I hated driving on the autoroutes in a small car that felt like it was going to be blown into a megatruck at any moment. And that hummmm...all day, all night. I don't think I could stand to live somewhere where that's a regular occurrence. It really does make me feel like I'm going to lose my mind.
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Old Dec 4th, 2013, 03:34 PM
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The French property market like the French economy is very weak at the moment, which might make it a good time to buy.
However, you need to be aware that changes to the French capital gains tax regime on properties in France, especially those owned by non EU residents, make investing in French real estate a far less attractive proposition. (This includes EU citizens resident outside the EU.)
Firstly, it is often overlooked by non EU residents that the rate of French capital gains tax applied to them when they sell their French property is far higher than for EU residents at 33.5%. Also controversially this year the French government starting charging additional social security charges of 15.5% on gains realised and rental income earned by foreign owners selling their French properties, and most countries refuse to recognise this as a tax and therefore allowable as a tax credit in their home country. (Despite paying the charges non residents are not entitled to any of the benefits they fund!) This takes the total bite by the French government from gains made by non EU residents selling French property to a potential 49%! There is tapering relief although the period to has been increased to 22 years and does not apply to social charges.
Although tax is not usually a primary consideration, most people sell their holiday home within 8-10 years on average, so losing such a big chunk of your gain needs to be considered.
As an aside the comments on the French climate are correct, in that the winters are surprisingly long, cold and wet, even down in the South.
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Old Dec 4th, 2013, 04:25 PM
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mcburja: In answer to your question, I specifically visited the villages of Autoire, Carennac, and Loubressac. Hardly any tourists in any of these picturesque villages when I was there in late September. -- it was like being in a dream.

I think the advise you are getting about visiting in winter is so good. I once thought about moving to Santa Fe, NM, until I visited in the winter. That did it for me!
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 02:09 AM
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The process for applying for a French long stay visa/carte de residence has changed in that it can no longer be applied for in France, as you have to apply prior to arrival through the Embassy in your country of residence. The requirements have also been tightened up to include a medical, evidence of private health insurance and sufficient financial means to support yourself without working. This visa is aimed at affluent non EU retirees and does not permit employment.
Getting a French work visa is very difficult and unless married to an EU citizen, or sponsored by a French employer who can demonstrate they have not been able to find an alternative EU candidate, then in the current record high unemployment enviroment in France, success is unlikely.
Going back to the OP, my suggestion would be to limit your time in France to 4 months a year to avoid becoming French tax resident, as believe me you really want to avoid dealing with the French tax bureaucracy and the highest taxes in the western world, which includes a wealth tax on the value of assets over 800k.
Lastly, going back to climate, with southern France having a similar latitude to Toronto, you can understand why the winters are cold!
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 05:21 AM
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I am regularly asked similar questions.

This is a response I sent last week ...

Hi

Languedoc is a big area stretching from the Rhone to Spain !

Herault has most facilities (Montpellier is the capital of the region).
Gard extends into the Cevennes and generally has fewer facilities
Aude has less people, but Narbonne and Carcassonne are of a reasonable size.
Lozere is very remote and isolated.
Pyrenees-Orientales is on the Spanish border and has fewer facilities.

Property is expensive on the coast and in the major cities (Montpellier, Nimes, Perpignan).
Property is cheaper in the villages and in the Cevennes hills.

The Cevennes are colder and wetter (inc snow) than the plains. The coast has the mildest weather.

Many coastal towns and mountain villages are almost abandoned in winter.

The cities give the best prospects for finding work.
Montpellier is the powerhouse of the region with universities, international companies, etc and it also benefits from museums, galleries, restaurants etc.
There is a live webcam here : http://www.montpellier.fr/150-webcam-montpellier.htm . It also has good transport facilities including a tram system.

The area is well served with low cost flight airports. Not all routes fly over the winter. Airports people use to fly to Languedoc include Barcelona, Girona, Perpignan, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Rodez, Beziers, Montpellier, Nimes, Avignon, Marseille, Lyon. Barcelona, Marseille and Lyon have most routes. Of the smaller airports Montpellier is best. Because Languedoc is long and narrow not all the airports are convenient for all areas. Marseille is around 1 hour from Nimes, but Barcelona is 3.5 hrs away.

The A9 autoroute follows the coast with spurs going to Clermont Ferrand/Paris and Carcassonne/Toulouse/Bordeaux. Many of the small roads are slow, particularly in the hills.

The main rail line follows the coast with major stations at Avignon, Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan. It continues to Barcelona. Parts are dedicated TGV track and the final Montpellier to Perpignan section is in the planning stage. Nimes to Paris is 3 hrs by TGV.

There are a lot of small villages with poor transport, no shops, schools doctors etc. In some areas they are virtual ghost towns in winter.

In the SW they have the tramontain wind and the Rhone valley has the mistral. Both are dry bringing blue skies but very cold in winter. Particularly exposed areas are cheaper because of these winds. Best to ensure you live in a relatively sheltered spot.

The only real industrial areas to avoid are the towns around Alés which have abandoned coal mines, steel works etc.

So, I'd look for a medium sized village/town within easy reach of a city, mid way from the coast to the mountains.

I'd research these towns or nearby villages - Uzes, Sommieres, Nimes, Lunel, Montpellier, Sete (on the coast but active year round), Beziers, Pezenas, Lodeve, Clermont l'Herault, Pezenas, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Perpignan.

My choice would be a village near a small town within reach of Montpellier.

As an example Calvisson is a small market town half way between Nimes and Montpellier and mid way from the coast and hills. It has basic facilities in the village, better facilities in Sommieres and is 30 / 40 minutes drive from both Nimes and Montpellier. You can "explore" villages with google street view : http://goo.gl/maps/WUnlJ

I can't be specific without knowing more about your circumstances.

I hope that helps !
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 08:54 AM
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mpprh knows his stuff. I'm elated that he mentions Lunel as one of his choices. Like Calvisson, Lunel is equi-distant to Montpelier and Nimes. This is a great area in which to find a home.
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 09:02 AM
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I'm coming late to the discussion, so if it's already been brought up I apologize. But, you might want to think about a long term rental for your first year in France. That way you can make a better decision on the town and location that would best suit you. Once you have purchased a home, it is pretty final.
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 10:18 AM
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I agree with nanabee. Six trips to the south of France is enough to grab onto a pipe dream but not necessarily enough to really understand what you're getting into, especially if those trips didn't involve a dead-of-winter trip. Rent a place from September to May and see what you think. I had made about 30 trips to France before I bought my house, and spoke French, and there were still constant surprises (still are, 21 years later). I would take sprogster's and mpphr's advice to heart.
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 12:37 PM
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I am always amazed by how many people caution people about "investing" in real estate due to various laws or whatever. I always think of buying a place because I really want to live there, not because it is an "investment."

When I bought my apartment in Paris in 1991, the real estate market collapsed six months later and my apartment lost 30% of its value -- but only if I wanted to sell it. But I wanted to live in it, so I did not care one bit. Of course since then, it has gained about 400% in value, but I still don't care, because I still want to live it in.
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 05:08 PM
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I wish more people had as much common sense as Kerouac concerning an "investment" in a home. Since when is a home an "investment" if you plan to live in it?
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Old Dec 5th, 2013, 06:26 PM
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I agree up to a point about investment in a house but it is very important that people contemplating a purchase in France understand the process and tax implications, particularly for a second home, because it is very different from the U.S. or Canada.

Notaires and real estate agents are not necessarily going to lead the buyer step by step through the choices and decisions available. For example, at the time you purchase a house, if you purchase as a couple, you can declare that the survivor has sole ownership, (tontine) thus avoiding, if you wish, French inheritance laws which leave a portion of the house to any children of the couple. Once the house is purchased, this is very difficult to put in place retroactively.

Regarding any appreciation/gains should the owner decide to sell, the appreciation on a second home LESS any cost of qualified improvements is subject to a high capital gains tax. That's just a fact.

My advice is do a great deal of research and decide how you want to handle a purchase before you get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Taxes, inheritance and recognition of foreign wills change, evolve, increase, decrease. Be prepared for what is in force at the time of purchase. The examples I used may change or may well already have changed.
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 06:42 AM
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"Notaires and real estate agents are not necessarily going to lead the buyer step by step through the choices and decisions available."

An estate agent, surely not. But I would expect a notaire to advise potential buyers - it his job and the service is free. Besides he has a very good idea of the price of properties in his area and will be able to tell you if the property you are interested in is overpriced or not.
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 06:59 AM
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My understanding is that the inheritance laws are due to change in 2015 to make is easier for some expat owners to bypass the automatic inheritance by their children.
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 07:07 AM
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Many thanks to all for the excellent advice. A couple of specific thoughts -

Wind. Yuck. Will need to find a spot that is (relatively) protected from the Mistral, Tramontane, Cers, Levant, Marin, et al, assuming such a place exists!

Capital Gains. A sad fact of life, but agree with Kerouac that we're really talking about an investment in quality of life, not in real estate.

Winter. Good advice and will will take this to heart by planning to try out the season, maybe both in the Perpignan region and then closer to Montpellier, just to understand the differences.

Very much appreciate the suggestions for specific towns, and look forward to many hours of enjoyable reasearch avec un pichet de vin rouge.
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 07:10 AM
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St. Cirq - fortunately, we have two children that we love dearly, and would be happy to leave this to the two of them. Let them fight over it when we're gone. ;-)
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 07:15 AM
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That's fine, mcburja, if they want it and understand the responsibilities.
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Old Dec 6th, 2013, 02:37 PM
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Under current law, all children would share equally BUT assuming one partner/spouse survives the other, unless you have purchased under a tontine, at the first spouse's death, the children inherit a portion of the house at the point.

They cannot remove the parent but they immediately participate in and profit from a sale or rental. Granted, in my case this is our primary residence. When one of us dies the other most certainly needs the full proceeds to determine next steps. We are not rich and although we don't plan to spend all their inheritance we need full control over the proceeds from the sale of this house if we still own it at the time one of us dies. Grim but the facts.

The government is talking about changing the inheritance process in 2015 to recognize wills written and filed outside of France, which would mean a spouse could inherit a house as set up in a foreign will without having previously purchased under a tontine.

However, French inheritance tax would still apply, at least that's the current proposal. On a primary residence, the spouse does not owe any inheritance tax and if foreign wills are recognized, it's my understanding that children do not have to be included. Not sure about a second home.

I'm not sure what countries will be covered by the changes in 2015, if they happen.

Kerouac, we learned the hard way that notaires are first and foremost tax collectors for the State. They will ensure that all inspections are in compliance, etc., but can be sloppy and certainly are not advocates for the buyer even if the buyer selects the notaire. Before you get hot under the collar, this is no different than in the States where the function is performed by closing agents.
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Old Dec 7th, 2013, 12:42 AM
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If the OP hasn't already done so, could I suggest googling for forums and blogs specifically geared to expatriates who've done exactly what the OP's aiming for, and those who've moved to permanent residence in France. And, of course, double (and treble!) check whatever the French government says about the requirements and procedures for long-stay overseas visitors.
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Old Dec 7th, 2013, 03:24 AM
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I agree with PatrickLondon. Beware that a lot of expat info for buying property and living in France is meant for British and Irish nationals who, because of their EU status, are often in a different position from non-EEA citizens. Those married to a non-French EU citizen like the OP is in a similar position to EU nationals but not identical.
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